Saturday Mar. 12, 2016

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Sonnet 65

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
0, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wreckful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
0 fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
0, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

“Sonnet 65” by William Shakespeare. Public Domain.  (buy now)

On this day in 1987, the musical Les Misérables (The Miserable Ones) opened on Broadway. It's based on Victor Hugo's novel by the same name (books by this author). Both follow the lives of several — mostly poor — characters in early 19th-century France.

French songwriter Alain Boublil got the idea to produce Les Mis in 1978, while attending the musical Oliver! in London. He shared his idea with composer Claude-Michel Schönberg, who said, "Let's do it."

The 1980 Paris production was a success. When Les Mis opened in London in 1985, it was a blockbuster. It crossed the pond to New York two years later. Americans embraced the show with equal enthusiasm.

The New York production won eight Tony Awards in 1987. It ran 16 years, making it the third-longest-running Broadway musical. The London show has never stopped, and is now the world's longest-running musical.

It's the birthday of children's author Virginia Hamilton (1934) (books by this author). She was the youngest of the five children Kenneth Hamilton and Etta Perry Hamilton raised on a farm near Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Hamilton's grandfather, Levi Perry, was an escaped slave. He came to southern Ohio via the Underground Railroad in the late 1850s. Virginia was named for her grandfather's home state.

Virginia grew up in the embrace of a large extended family. The family was full of tale-weavers. Her grandfather "sat his ten children down every year and said, 'I'm going to tell you how I escaped from slavery, so slavery will never happen to you.'" Hamilton called her parents "unusually fine storytellers." They encouraged her to read — and were not surprised when the child began writing her own stories.

In 1958, after college, Hamilton moved to New York. She held a variety of jobs there, including accountant and nightclub singer, while she pursued her dream of writing. She also met and married poet Arnold Adoff and had two children. In 1969, the family settled permanently in Yellow Springs, on a corner of the old family farm.

Hamilton wrote 41 published books for children and young adults, including The House of Dies Drear (1968), The Planet of Junior Brown (1971), M.C. Higgins, the Great (1974), Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush (1982), and Her Stories (1995). M.C. Higgins, the Great, an Appalachian coming-of-age tale, was the first book ever to win the "grand slam" of children's literature: the Newbery Medal, the National Book Award, and the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award. During her career, Hamilton won almost every award that exists for children's literature.

Virginia Hamilton died of breast cancer on February 19, 2002.

Virginia Hamilton said: "There are three things I can remember always wanting: to go to New York, to go to Spain, and to be a writer. It feels nice to have done all three. I haven't had to want anything for some time."

Today is the birthday of Beat novelist Jack Kerouac (books by this author), born in Lowell, Massachusetts (1922), to parents who were French-speaking Québécois. He grew up speaking French, and didn't start learning English until grade school.

He was a track and football star in high school, and he got a football scholarship to Columbia in New York, where he met Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Neal Cassady. Jack Kerouac idolized Neal Cassady, and he typed the story of their cross-country adventures together on a single scroll of paper, 120 feet long, which was published in 1957 as On the Road. He depicts Neal Cassady — whom he calls Dean Moriarty — as a charismatic bad boy American hero. Kerouac took a backpacking trip with another friend whom he idolized, the poet Gary Snyder, and he turned Snyder into the character Jaffy Ryder and made him the hero of The Dharma Bums (1958).

From On the Road:

"I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was — I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds."

It's the birthday of playwright Edward Albee (books by this author), born Edward Harvey in Washington, D.C. (1928). He was adopted at two weeks old by Mr. and Mrs. Reed Albee of Larchmont, New York, and that is where he grew up. He was exposed to theater from a young age because it was the family business: not as performers, but as part owners of a national chain, the Keith-Albee Organization. His family expected their son to enter a business career, rather than an artistic one, but young Albee had other ideas. He had a falling out with his parents when he was 20 and moved to Greenwich Village; he never spoke to his father again, and he didn't speak to his mother for 17 years.

After dabbling for some years in fiction and poetry, he completed his first play, The Zoo Story (1958), when he was 30. He's best known for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), which was his first Broadway play and a runaway hit.

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